Spinning rims? WTF?

Some guy pulled out of a parking lot in front of me today with ridiculously bright chromed wheels; they were very distracting, especially in the early morning sun. It took me a while to figure out why, though. It turns out the rims had a second piece attached, on a free-wheeling hub. As he drives, the outer part of the rim spins up; when he stops — they keep spinning!

These are a visual distraction, especially for magpies like me (Ooooh! Shiny!). But I can’t see how they’d be considered safe either; in an accident, these things would become lethal “Frisbees of Death”…

Are they legal? Or like so many after market auto parts, are they in that grey area: legal to sell, illegal to put on your car, but not worth pulling you over to prosecute?

posted at 10:31 am on Tuesday, November 16, 2004 in Rants | Comments (5)
  1. jessie turner says:

    the rims if are illegal should not be its a way of expressing your self which every one desreves to do if a loser wants to look at them intead of the road in fornt of them its there fault not the owner of the rims “a owner of a pair on my car it should not be illegal and thats final”

  2. Harald says:

    Your right to express yourself with your fist stops at my nose…

    Safety is a shared responsibility. Searching the net for a photo, I saw lots of flashy spinning rims that _were_ built safely; the ones _I_ saw on the road were dangerous.

  3. leigh says:

    Spinners should be illegal. Too many people get veer out of the way from a stopped car simply because it looks like the car is still in motion. You see wheels turning what does that mean? In a short instant you may think you see a car run a light or turning into your lane. It causes accidents Ive seen them myself. Everyone has the right to express themselves but safety is still important above all. The spinners are a little much.

  4. I think you must be pretty stupid to fall for that. Yes,I have gotten the same motion from cars moving back from a parking stall. If you get into an accident because of ‘spinners’ maybe you shouldn’t be on the road. Before one accelerates one should look ahead for pedestrians, other cars, green light etc. that give you the ‘real’ signal to get moving. This definately must happen with novice drivers, or people over 40. Just because the car beside me seems to move, or does move, doesn’t allow me to punch the accelerator without making sure I can do so first.

  5. chk says:

    I think you must be pretty stupid to leave insulting comments on someone else’s weblog, especailly after comment #2 above. Ah well; this page seems to attract the weirdos. Kinda fun, actually, which is why I’ve been allowing these comments!

Argh; MSIE and bandwidth

It appears that if you set the Cache settings in IE to “Automatically” or “Every visit to the page”, then every time you visit a page at blog.cfrq.net IE fetches all page objects (page, CSS, favicon, embedded images). For some of them, it is sending the If-Modified-Since: header (I see 304 responses for the blog CSS, for example), but it does not seem to be sending If-Modified-Since: for the banner JPEGs. This means that MSIE visitors download the banners several times in a row as they browse the site. This not only wastes my bandwidth, but it also interferes with their experience, since they have to wait for the banner to download on every page visit.

I’ve noticed IE doing this before on the client side with image intense applications (like MovableType :-), but I hadn’t investigated until recently, when a small increase in visitors to my blog site _doubled_ the bandwidth used…

Is this a known IE bug? Is there anything I can do on the server side to work around it? The investigation continues…

posted at 8:44 am on Saturday, August 21, 2004 in Rants, Site News | Comments (2)
  1. Reid says:

    You could conditionally use a low-res substitute for IE users..

  2. Harald says:

    An excellent suggestion, and trivial to implement. Since WordPress already shoves a bunch of rewrite rules into a .htaccess file, it is trivial to add another one to conditionally rewrite the .jpg URLs for MSIE users. I’ve compressed the JPEGs to about 20% of their original size. The quality suffers, but less than I expected it would…

Hostile Movie Theaters

Nelson’s Weblog: guestblog / marc / movie-theaters

bq. It would certainly be cheaper to buy the movie on DVD and own it forever, than to watch it once for nearly twice the price; the popcorn would be better, cheaper, and faster, and could be topped with real butter instead of “topping”; the water would be tastier, colder, and available for $1.49 per 100 cubic feet; and the talking would be sanctioned or actionable. Plus, no ads. It’s no wonder home theater is booming.


There’s a chain up here (Rainbow Cinemas) that is cheaper, but it still makes our family-of-four trip to see Shrek 2, for example, well over $40 by the time you add popcorn and drinks…

posted at 4:32 pm on Sunday, June 13, 2004 in Links, Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    A good home theatre is not just $24/movie for the disc, you need to spend about $5,000 to $10,000 on equipment too (I recommend it, and go for the high end).

New Ontario Health Tax

Our take-home pay just dropped by $1500 / year, thanks to the new Ontario budget. That’s my yearly gas bill, for comparison.

This just the new Health Tax; I haven’t calculated the net effect of all the other taxes. Liquor taxes are up, for example.

My benefits are going to cost my employer more, now that they’ve delisted several common services (like eye exams and physiotherapy).


posted at 11:37 pm on Tuesday, May 18, 2004 in Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    Yes, but according to the front page article on yesterday’s national post, the average Canadian home owner made $30,000 on paper last year on their homes due to real-estate inflation. Time to draw up a balance sheet and count yourself lucky.

    Anyway, I’m all for a recall election, if only it were legal. Did they make any promises they kept? I think they officially ran out of any semblance of integrity quite some time ago.

    The official excuse of course is that they relied on the previous bunch of liars. Wasn’t a Tory booted out for using the “Liar” word yesterday? It’s like watching monkeys in a zoo.

    Take a pass on the caffeine and the liquor and drown your troubles in Fedora Core 2, which is out. Even using bit torrent, it looks like I won’t have the DVD image downloaded until Thursday. Maybe Qt, PERL & gclibs might actually work in this release.

    This way we can all take advantage of the expanded community mental health services your $1500 is buying when Fedora Core 2 finally drives us crazy.

Cheap Gas

The Oil companies have explained that the variation in gas prices is normal. Gasoline is a commodity, and people are willing to drive a fair distance for cheap gas. So when one station lowers their price, everyone else _must_ also, or they lose all of their business. This process continues until all of the stations are losing money (by selling gas below cost), at which point head office tells them to go back to the regular price. Or something.

This doesn’t explain to me why the price varies by more than 10¢ per litre on a weekly basis, and with predictable regularity. For a while now, Monday evening has been cheap gas night all around this area; then the price goes up significantly late Monday night. It’s been so much of a pattern that it is a ritual for us to pick up the kids from school then go get cheap gas.

This week, however, they messed everything up. Sunday, it was 78¢ per litre; Monday it was down to 66 ¢ (a significant jump down, which is also unusual). Tuesday, it _dropped_ another 3 ¢, and Wednesday it was back up to 70 ¢.

So in 72 hours, gasoline prices dropped $0.15/litre, and then jumped right back up again. The Oil companies claim that the jump is due to demand, but that doesn’t explain the preceding drop. It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I no longer believe the oil companies’ facile explanation…

posted at 9:25 pm on Sunday, March 07, 2004 in Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Joker says:

    Paying the +15% rates Wed->Sat is just another tax on the stupid like smokes, caffeine, lotteries, bingo, casinos, beer, aspartame, Prozac, Zoloft & Windows. The Users don’t know any better and they *like* it!

Too much time fixing computers…

In Marshall Brain’s Blog, we see that Marshall spent 11 hours and 20 minutes fixing and dealing with computer problems in the month of December. I remember reading this and thinking that it sounded about normal.

Today, I went downstairs to discover my old laptop had blue-screened. It turns out that there’s a bad block in the _directory_ WINNT\SYSTEM32\CONFIG. Now the system cannot boot. (The brain-dead recovery process on the Win2K install disk can’t fix this, because this is apparently the directory it looks for when locating a system to repair :-)

Fortunately, I was planning on scraping that system anyway; the cable connecting the screen to the base has an intermittent fault, and the power switch is broken. I was going to take it back to Acer to get those fixed, then re-install. So I had most of my important data backed up already.

But the one thing I was still using that computer for was Quicken…

I tried installing Quicken on a different computer today, but it wouldn’t go. My guess is that I’m triggering anti-piracy code; activation requires connecting to a license server on the Internet, which is probably refusing to activate because those codes are already in use on another system. Of course, Intuit’s tech support is closed on Sundays…

If this continues, I’ll be over 11:20 by the end of the month :-) But I have to agree with Marshall; why does it always have to be this difficult?

posted at 9:05 pm on Sunday, January 11, 2004 in Rants | Comments Off on Too much time fixing computers…

Big and Blue in the USA

I was directed to a “wonderful curmudgeonly rant”:http://www.oriononline.org/pages/oo/curmudgeon/index_BigAndBlue.html in “The Orion”:http://www.oriononline.org/index2.html. It’s worth the time to read the whole thing.

bq. What we see all over our nation is a situational loneliness of the most extreme kind; and it is sometimes only recognizable in contrast to the ways that people behave in other countries. Any culture, after all, is an immersive environment, and I suspect that most Americans are unaware of how socially isolated they are among the strip malls and the gated apartment complexes. Or, to put it another way, of what an effort it takes to put themselves in the company of other people.

bq. This pervasive situational loneliness, of being stuck alone in your car, alone in your work cubicle, alone in your apartment, alone at the supermarket, alone at the video rental shop — because that’s how American daily life has come to be organized — is the injury to which the insult of living in degrading, ugly, frightening, and monotonous surroundings is added.

We chose our house specifically to be within walking/biking distance of our kids’ school, and we’re within walking distance of both the GO Train and the subway. So we’re not in complete suburban hell; we can get lots of places without our car. My “new commute”:http://blog.cfrq.net/chk/archives/000315.html is going to be ugly, though.

Our neighbourhood is relatively old (for Canada :-), but it suffers many of the problems of modern suburban life. There are few amenities within walking distance (and particularly, no pub :). There used to be a grocery store, but it closed; Dominion decided that small stores were not cost effective. It’s now a Shopper’s Drug Mart, which does carry emergency rations, but it’s not the same. There is a small bakery close by, and (ugh) a KFC. Fairview Mall is walkable, but it is its own kind of wasteland. We have lots of parks and ravines, but they seem to be the terrain of the dog walkers. On the plus side, NYGH and _three_ medical buildings are all in walking distance :-)

I’d love to be able to walk and bike more (other than as recreation), but it’s not terribly practical. I’d love to cut my (non-car) commute down below an hour each way, but again, not practical; even if we lived downtown, we’d then have to commute uptown to take our kids to school.

People joke about how we can walk to IKEA. Who would _want_ to walk to IKEA? I’d rather drive there, and walk to the grocery store.

(Can you tell I’m not looking forward to driving to work next year?)

(via “Philip Greenspun”:http://www.oriononline.org/pages/oo/curmudgeon/index_BigAndBlue.html).

posted at 10:51 pm on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 in Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    The curmudgeon’s stuff is total hogwash, top to bottom. Having things spread out increases efficiencies of scale. You even pointed it out. Walking to a grocery store when you own a car is, well, I’ll be charitable and call it dumb.

    In this day and age of varied interests, you can’t have a baseball diamond, pool, scrabble club, yacht club, ham radio club, chiropractic, Rosicrucian or Masonic temple and psychic reader on every street corner you know. [nor apparently a book store that stocks Goethe, Jung or Freud ANYWHERE in the city]

    ..and Psychoanalytical techniques and self-help clinics are too time-consuming to give people with troubles in there life anything other than Prozac or beer, and as near as I can tell the beer drinkers prefer beer to self-help and psychoanalysis anyway. I’ll assume Prozac has the same effect, I don’t know much about it.

    Continue to drive your car and let the government worry about installing nuke plants in the Alberta oil sands [to extract fuel]. Trust the Government!

    Oh, wait, the Don Valley is a hopelesss write-off of an unupdated highway.

    Do you meet many intellectuals at your local pub? Walking in the street? Perhaps it was the intellectuals on the subway who got paranoid about that one guy’s metal suitcase?

    So far the only conversation I’ve had on the subway or streets of Toronto in the last year was some schizophrenic who snapped his fingers in my face and babbled as well as someone who had never seen a palm top and someone who had never seen a 200mm zoom lens. In Ottawa, walking around, I was offered dibs on a shipment of alcohol and cigarettes. There were no other spontaneous conversations, well except for the drunk in Bayward market who was spouting profanties and 6-pack-logic to passers by who took a moment off to tell Jennifer that God loved her.

    The curmudgeon’s approach is completely vacant.

Keyboard layout frustration

Once upon a time, on Suns (and X-terminals) in a land far, far away, the “Control” key was underneath the Tab key, above the Shift key. Then along came the PC keyboard, which swapped the two. For a while I used to remap my keyboard to put the keys back in the right places, but eventually I had to use too many native Windows machines, so I taught my hands the new Ctrl key location.

Apparently the people that designed Compaq notebook keyboards did so inside of a locked box. Every other laptop I’ve used (Dell, Toshiba, Acer, Sony) has had the usual three or four keys in the bottom left corner of the keyboard: Ctrl, Fn, Alt or Ctrl, Fn, Windows, Alt. Not my Compaq; it has Fn, Ctrl, Windows, Alt!

Who in their right mind does that? They committed two egregious sins: _changing_ a “standard” keyboard layout, and putting a seldom used key (Fn) in the bottom left in place of a commonly used key (Ctrl). I don’t expect most people to know all the emacs Ctrl sequences, but the Ctrl key is used in all sorts of Windows keyboard shortcuts (especially select all, cut, copy, and paste)!!

Even worse, the Fn key cannot be remapped; it is intercepted by the keyboard controller, and used in combination with other keys to generate scancodes for keys that don’t physically exist, like the numeric keypad). _Some_ Compaqs have a BIOS switch to swap the keys; mine doesn’t. So I can’t even swap them back…

For now I’ve found a Windows keyboard remapping utility, “KeyTweak”:http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/ and I’m using it to change the Caps Lock key to another Ctrl key (thus putting the Ctrl key back where it was a decade ago). I’ve done the same thing on all of my Linux boxes at home. It’s not an optimal solution, because I still have to use other machines with the Ctrl key in the bottom left…


(Everything else about this laptop is spiffy, btw; the keyboard is my only complaint :-)

posted at 6:15 pm on Tuesday, December 09, 2003 in Rants | Comments (5)
  1. Mike says:

    Hi Harald
    I’ve started to look at your blog on the odd occasion – initially found it through a Kites link I think.
    Is spiffy a Canadian word? or are you a Jeeves & Wooster fan?

  2. Harald says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s a British term, which is almost certainly where I got it from; several people around me come from British stock (including me :), so I probably picked it up that way.

  3. taridzo says:

    you can say that again! i’m not of the old school, but i’ve found the presario laptop layout surprisingly annoying.

  4. Ryan says:


    I’m with you.

    In my opinion, Dell has the best keyboard layout for laptops; Dell even has the 6 navigation keys layed out correctly (insert, delete, home, end, pg up, pg down).

    IBM would have the perfect keyboard layout if they could fix the Ctrl/Fn key switch.

    Toshiba has the worst keyboard layout (even though Ctrl key is correct); navigation keys all over, tilda key next to space bar, windows key in upper right hand corner..stupid.

  5. Peter says:

    I found this thread because my company standardized on Compaqs and I am SO FRUSTRATED with the damn flip of Ctrl and Fn. Previously we could use Dell or Compaq and I always went with Compaq. For my home laptop I’ve had Toshiba and HP without this problem. Now I’m constantly hitting the wrong key, etc. What sort of rock do the compaq designers live under?

    I appreciate any help on this matter. tomorrow I’ll check the bios you mentioned as well as KeyTweak.



Sick Kid Benefits

Seen on “Halley’s Comment”:http://halleyscomment.blogspot.com/archives/2003_11_16_halleyscomment_archive.html#106933175797022052

bq. I remember reading a company brochure about sick kid benefits early on when my son was little and I was still doing a classic corporate grind job. They had an employee benefit that was like renting a loaner car when your car was in the shop, but this was a loaner mom if your kid was sick and you had to be at work. All sounded so modern and reasonable. If my kid had a 104 fever all I had to do was drop him off at this hospital day care facility conveniently located 45 minutes from my house in the opposite direction of work, then they would care for him and I could work all day and pick him up at the end of the day.

My goodness; would people actually do this? Would an employer _expect_ it of their employee?

Actually, I do know people for whom “my kid is sick” is not an excuse to stay away from work. But those employers typically offer no benefits and small paycheques, so that doesn’t apply here. People in those situations have a network of neighbours, friends, relatives to rely on; they cannot survive otherwise.

Is there a trust issue here? Have we (employees of companies that _do_ offer benefits) become a group of people that trusts an institution more than we trust our friends, relatives, neighbours? Or is this a corporation trying to optimise their “human resources” to extremes?

The mind boggles. I’m with Halley on this one:

bq. The brochure was so glossy and pretty. I kept turning it’s many panels over trying to find the page that acknowledged NO KID WANTS TO SPEND THE DAY WITH A STRANGER IN A HOSPITAL WHEN THEY’RE SICK WITH AN EARACHE AND A 104 FEVER AND NO MOM WANTS TO LEAVE THEIR KID WITH ANYONE ELSE WHEN THEIR KID IS THAT SICK.

posted at 12:06 pm on Thursday, November 20, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Sick Kid Benefits


I was going to rant about several things; “the Vatican and condoms”:http://www.plastic.com/article.html;sid=03/10/10/14414386, the “SunnComm copyprotection lawsuit”:http://www.wired.com/news/digiwood/0,1412,60774,00.html, “Zero Tolerance Idiocy”:http://www.plastic.com/article.html;sid=03/10/10/20320422 and at least two other things that I’ve forgotten now. But it’s been a busy week, and I’m feeling lazy, and I have “CSI:Miami”:http://www.tvtome.com/CSIMiami/ and “Joan of Arcadia”:http://www.tvtome.com/JoanofArcadia/ to watch on TV…

(But I wasn’t going to rant about SCO. That’s been done to death :-)

posted at 8:36 pm on Friday, October 10, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Lazy

Electricity deregulation needs to respect physics

An article in “The Industrial Physicist”:http://www.aip.org/tip/ entitled “What’s wrong with the electric grid?”:http://www.tipmagazine.com/tip/INPHFA/vol-9/iss-5/p8.html eloquently states what I’ve believed all along:

bq. In the view of Casazza and many other experts, the key error in the new rules was to view electricity as a commodity rather than as an essential service.

A normal competitive market requires tension between buyers and sellers. Buyers are trying to get the lowest possible price; sellers are trying to get the highest possible price. The “sweet point” in the market maximises profit for the seller; lowering the price lowers margins and reduces profit, while raising the price drives away buyers, reducing revenue.

That last part is why competition in essential goods and services cannot work; if a buyer cannot choose to _not_ purchase, then there is no force acting to reduce prices. We need to consume a minimum amount of energy; for example, if we don’t purchase one of heating oil, electricity, or natural gas, then we _freeze to death_. We can conserve energy and reduce consumption somewhat, but we cannot stop using it altogether, and that means that energy cannot be traded in a truly competitive market.

Instead, energy automatically becomes scarce, and prices rise. This happens for two reasons. First, when energy prices are low, there is no incentive for energy producers to invest in new generators; they won’t make any money doing so. When energy prices are _high_, there is no incentive to invest, because new generators will lower prices, reducing both the “free” profit margin on the existing generators, _and_ reducing the profit available to pay for the new capacity.

Second, this kind of good creates an incentive to “game the system”: producers (or traders) can create artificial shortages and watch prices rise as buyers scramble to secure the power they need. In fact, we experienced both of these outcomes:

bq. “Under the new system, the financial incentive was to run things up to the limit of capacity,” explains Carreras. In fact, energy companies did more: they gamed the system. Federal investigations later showed that employees of Enron and other energy traders “knowingly and intentionally” filed transmission schedules designed to block competitors’ access to the grid and to drive up prices by creating artificial shortages. In California, this behavior resulted in widespread blackouts, [and] the doubling and tripling of retail rates […]. In the more tightly regulated Eastern Interconnect, retail prices rose less dramatically.

bq. After a pause following Enron’s collapse in 2001 and a fall in electricity demand (partly due to recession and partly to weather), energy trading resumed its frenzy in 2002 and 2003. Although power generation in 2003 has increased only 3% above that in 2000, generation by independent power producers, a rough measure of wholesale trading, has doubled. System stress, as measured by TLRs and frequency instability, has soared, and with it, warnings by FERC and other groups.

The blackout on August 14th was an inevitable result, and the subsequent outages in London and Italy should show even the optimists that August 14th was not an isolated event.

posted at 7:57 pm on Friday, October 10, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Electricity deregulation needs to respect physics

American Politics again

This is one of the things that bug me about the American political system; completely off-topic amendments.

In “Missouri Senator Tells California To Sit Down And Shut Up About Pollution”:http://www.plastic.com/article.html;sid=03/09/08/14590591 we learn that:

* California wants to add catalytic converters to small engines to reduce pollution
* Briggs & Stratton, the largest manufacturer of small engines in the US has two plants in Missouri
* Senator Chris ‘Kit’ Bond (R-Missouri) is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The result: Abusing his position, Bond inserts a provion into the 2004 federal spending bill that prevents states from enforcing small-engine emission regulations more stringent than the federal Clean Air Act.

bq. “I will use every legislative tool at my disposal to stop California bureaucrats from trying to solve their own air quality problems at the expense of almost 2,000 workers and their families in Poplar Bluff and Rolla,” he said.

What a crock…

It seems to me that these days, U.S. Federal spending bills have very little to do with spending, and instead are a catch-all for hundreds of little laws to appease special interest groups, many of which would never get passed if they were out in the open, subject to public scrutiny…

posted at 2:49 pm on Monday, September 08, 2003 in Current Events, Rants | Comments Off on American Politics again

Labour Day Irony?

I was driving to my friends’ house on Monday, and I noticed that all of the stores on Kennedy Road were open. This was a surprise to me; Labour Day is the mother of all statutory holidays, after all.

Apparently this was another one of those “boost Toronto’s economy after SARS and the blackout” things.

I wonder how many of the people who walked into those stores on Monday were members of a union? Oh, the irony…

posted at 4:59 pm on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Labour Day Irony?

Is Email Broken?

bq. “Joi Ito’s Web: Email is officially broken”:http://joi.ito.com/archives/2003/08/14/email_is_officially_broken.html :

bq. I pronounce email officially broken. If 17 percent of legit email is being blocked by spam filters, it’s not officially working.

A conclusion drawn from a single study is bad enough, but a single study done _by_ email marketers? Surely there must be _some_ bias in the research, and therefore the conclusions. We already know that users’ definitions of “opt-in” are often very different from marketers’ versions (The fact that I give someone my e-mail address on a registration screen does _not_ mean I want them to declare every spammer under the sun a “carefully screened partner or affiliate”…)

Based on my logs, a rough estimate is that cfrq.net _refuses_ 1-2% of inbound email. We keep track of the source of blocked e-mail, and send a nightly report to users; The number of complaints I’ve received can still be counted on one hand. The rest is _all_ unsolicited bulk e-mail. The front line filters are very conservative, so I also run SpamBayes on my personal mailbox; it catches about another 10% (again, with a single-digit number of false positives since I installed it a year ago) . That too is all unsolicited (No really, I _like_ the current size of my penis, thank you).

bq. I don’t care what excuses people give. The people who made smtp should have thought more about host authentication and the people who made IPv4 should have made longer IP addresses. My guess is that there were people who were voicing concerns who had more vision.

Hey, the technology was invented in the dark ages when compared to today’s world. Nobody expected personal computers, never mind _cheap_ personal computers, never mind laptops and palmtops. SMTP even predates domain names, for goodness’ sake. SMTP was invented in an environment where the community was small enough that bad manners could be policed, never mind security. Now we have hundreds of millions of people on the ‘net; I think e-mail is holding up remarkably well, personally.

The problem here is not email or technology; it’s a bunch of people who think that SPAM is a viable business (and sadly, enough people click that it is). We solved the junk fax problem with legislation, and we’re still working on telemarketers. We’ll get around to e-mail eventually. In the meantime, e-mail marketers will just have to put up with the fact that some bad apples have spoiled the barrel for _them_. Normal, person-to-person e-mail is working just fine…

posted at 6:54 pm on Thursday, August 21, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Is Email Broken?

This Shouldn’t Be News…

Yahoo! News – Ice Cream ‘Isn’t Health Food’-Study

bq. the staggering calorie and saturated fat content of most of the treats served up at chains like Baskin-Robbins, Ben and Jerry’s, Cold Stone Creamery, Friendly’s, Haagen-Dazs and TCBY is bound to surprise most consumers.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise, especially with all of the health news floating around these days.

bq. The CSPI said an empty Ben & Jerry’s chocolate-dipped waffle cone, designed to hold at least two scoops of ice cream, itself packs 320 calories and 10 grams or half a day’s worth of saturated fat.

Well, _duh_! The thing is _larger_ than a 300 calorie chocolate bar, and has most of the same ingredients…

I suppose it’s good that someone is smacking consumers over the head with this information, but it’s a sad sign of the times that it’s necessary.

(I have an ice cream cone or sundae about once a _month_, and yes, I “count”:http://www.weightwatchers.ca it…

posted at 1:29 pm on Thursday, July 24, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on This Shouldn’t Be News…

More Manned Spaceflight

Another article on manned space flight, which suggests that we should leave human exploration of space to the millionaires (e.g. Steve Fosset, the round-the-world balloon guy).

Interesting, but I’m afraid that one possible result would be Space Feudalism…

posted at 11:00 am on Wednesday, July 02, 2003 in Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Tom says:

    I’d love to see this, but I don’t see it happening as long as the government keeps showing a willingness to foot the bill.

    Of course, if the government foots the bill then America gets to control the early colonies. If private industry foots the bill,then we have a reinactment of what happened to the Chinese and Irish when they hired on to build railroads.

    I think a private / government partnership would work best and has a better chance of happening.

Do we need astronauts?

How Science Brought Down the Shuttle (Free NY Times registration required).

bq. Scientific experimentation in space can be safer and more cost effective using long-duration remote controlled orbital spacecraft.

This is true, but there are many other reasons why we are in space. My favourite set of videos from the recent ISS mission are the four-part series on eating (with all sorts of cool surface-tension physics hidden inside a mundane task), and the water film experiments by Don Petit. In both cases, an astronaut combined his love of science with a little spare time and came up with something entirely new, something that probably would never have made it off the ground otherwise.

bq. The idea of using the space shuttle as a scientific laboratory actually came about after the shuttle’s design was already in place. The shuttle program was conceived in the waning days of the Apollo program as the best option to continue a manned space program at the lowest cost. However, without a place to shuttle to, and not nearly enough satellites that needed a shuttle to launch or repair them, the shuttle program succeeded in doing little beyond creating a human presence in space. The idea of the shuttle as an in-orbit lab was used as a justification for investment in its future.

So? I think it is important that we have people in space. Switching the focus of the shuttle program in order to keep people in space is a good thing.

OTOH, I think it’s a travesty that the ISS crew has been cut from seven to three (and now, temporarily, two). The whole point of building the thing was to get a permanent presence in space; cutting the crew to the point where ISS cannot be effective (science drops from 120 hours/week to 20 hours/week) kills the whole program.

It’s important that we do more science on orbit without astronaut involvement; it is cheaper and more effective. It can also be done commercially at a fraction of the cost of NASA missions :-). But I think we _also_ need a manned presence in space, _just because_. NASA (or an organisation like it) is probably still the best way to do that.

If we get a bunch of intelligent, capable people into a space lab and then let them play, and all sorts of interesting (and useful!) things will happen.

posted at 9:50 am on Sunday, June 29, 2003 in Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Rusty Barton says:

    From 1958 through 1969 the U.S. spent $ 34.8-billion on the NASA budget and achieved the moon landing.

    From 1970 through 2003 the U.S. has spent $ 304-billion on the NASA budget. For what? I would like to see more results for my tax dollars. We seem to be just going in circles.

Train Station Security

A friend of mine need to do two things: change trains at the station near my office, and give me an attachment for his digital camera. It made perfect sense for us to combine the two.

So I wander down to the station, and walk over to the escalator for the appropriate track. “I’m sorry, only passengers are allowed on the track level. It’s for safety, and it’s a policy. You can meet your friend over there at Arrivals”. As a regular commuter, I probably spend more time on train platforms than he does, but whatever. Sadly, I understand droid mentality, even if it makes me cringe.

Still trying to be lawful, I went to the security desk to see if someone there would be kind enough to escort me upstairs, but there was no one around. Time is running out…

I wandered over to the Arrivals area for that track. Hey, the escalator is going _up_ instead of _down_. “Aha!” says I, “I now have an excuse for being on the platform if anyone stops me”. I waited for his train to arrive, went up the escalator, and joined him as he got off the train. He handed me the cable then went over to his other train, and I went down the other arrivals escalator (just as though I were an arriving passenger).

Several train and station staff saw me walking around on the “wrong” part of the train platform; nobody even looked at me twice. Which just proves, as always, that you can go pretty much anywhere as long as you look like you know what you’re doing…

posted at 4:19 pm on Monday, June 16, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Train Station Security

New Passport Forms are confusing

I don’t like the design of the new “Canadian Child Passport Application”:http://www.ppt.gc.ca/online_forms/pdfs/ppt046.pdf.

It asks for information on both parents. I understand why, but it asks for “Relationship with other parent” and “Date of marriage (if applicable)” _twice_, once for each parent. Wouldn’t the answers always be the same?

Strangely, it also asks for parents’ “Surname at Birth”; How is this information germaine, especially for people who married before they came to this country?

On the front of the form, we write the name of the child and the applicant. On the back of the form, we write the name of the child and the applicant again, in order to sign a declaration. (Update: maybe this is because you can now print the forms from the above linked PDF, and the pages would be separate?)

It’s almost as if they were looking for filler for a two page form :-)

posted at 3:39 pm on Friday, May 30, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on New Passport Forms are confusing

SMTP works just fine, thank you

“Joel on Software”:http://www.joelonsoftware.com/ → “Internet Security: Too Broke to Fix?”:http://security.ziffdavis.com/article2/0,3973,1036052,00.asp

Larry Seltzer wants to replace SMTP with something that has authentication and resource limits. Well, SMTP already has authentication, and many MTAs already have resource limits…

Many people discover SMTP’s authentication when they try to send e-mail while travelling; their ISPs don’t let them. SMTP can already use TLS with certificates, SASL, or POP-before-SMTP, and many ISPs are starting to require one or more. My _hobby_ server supports all three, so it can’t be hard. I haven’t seen anyone do resource limits out-of-the-box yet, but that’s because it doesn’t really solve anything; spammers will always be able to hide inside “legitimate” usage profiles.

The problem is not the protocol, or the mythical “Internet”; it’s poorly administered computers. People who don’t think twice about _properly_ managing and securing a PBX will turn around and install, then neglect, crappy SMTP gateways. In my e-mail logs, the worst offenders for poorly administered servers are non-technical companies (law firms, insurance companies, banks :-). Most of the spam I receive comes through open relays on corporate networks, and through relays on home computers (where Microsoft installs insecure software direct from CD :-).

If we introduce a new protocol, spammers will find new ways to abuse it. Criminals are constantly finding new ways to abuse corporate PBXes, and cell phones, and calling cards. The solution is for people to stop treating the Internet as a toy, and start maintaining their servers properly. Sadly, that’s not likely to happen, and so we’re left with reactionary technology like realtime blackhole lists and desktop spam filtering software.

posted at 3:43 pm on Friday, April 25, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on SMTP works just fine, thank you
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